The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize
Winner 2013: Mir Mahfuz Ali

Denise Saul. Photo: Naomi WoddisThe Poetry Society is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2013 Geoffrey Dearmer Prize is Mir Mahfuz Ali, for his poem, 'MIG-21 Raids at Shegontola'The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize is awarded to the best poem published in  The Poetry Review written by a poet who hadn’t published a full collection at the time their work appeared in the magazine.

Mir Mahfuz Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He studied at Essex University. He dances, acts, and has worked as a male model and a tandoori chef. He has given readings and performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and other theatres in Britain and beyond. His poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, London Magazine, Poetry London, Ambit and PN Review. Mahfuz was shortlisted for the New Writing Ventures Awards 2007 and the Picador Poetry Prize 2010. His poetry has been published in the anthology Ten: New Poets from Spread the Word (Bloodaxe Books, 2010), edited by Bernardine Evaristo and Daljit Nagra. His debut collection Midnight, Dhaka was published by Seren in May 2014..

In awarding the Prize, judge John Glenday said: "It’s always difficult choosing between the various strengths of different poems. Every effective poem works in a different way – each is a combination of craft, insight and imagination, but in Mir Mahfuz Ali’s poem there is another ingredient – necessity. And by necessity I mean that quality which allows the poem to take a moral stance, to act as a redemptive force, rescuing the individual from history. In this respect, it is a form of first aid for the soul, telling the world in us a little more about the world out there.

"The poem immediately draws us in to its heartbreaking narrative – as is always the case, big things need to be talked about in small ways. It begins with a small boy caught up in savagery, and ends with that same boy surviving, but transformed. Mahfuz uses striking imagery to build a visceral description of the attack, juxtaposing images of violence and astonishing beauty. There are no fancy tricks nor virtuoso flauntings here, just a vivid, enthralling, brutal account of aggression and its consequences. But remarkably, one of those consequences is quietly positive: this child survives, only just survives – but emerges “like an apprentice baker” – a subtle reference to sustenance and compassion, to life continuing." (from The Poetry Review 104:2)

Mir Mahfuz Ali's winning poem was first published in The Poetry Review, 103:4, Winter 2013, edited by Maurice Riordan. A new poem, ‘Bullet’, was published 104:2 in celebration of Mahfuz's prize.


Mir Mahfuz Ali
MIG-21 Raids at Shegontola

Only this boy moves

between the runes of trees

on his tricycle

when an eagle swoops,

releases two arrows

from its silver wings and melts

away faster than lightning.

Then a loud whistle

and a bang like dry thunder.

In a blink the boy sees

his house roof sink.

Feels his ears ripped off.

The blast puffs up a fawn smoke

bigger than a mountain cloud.

The slow begonias rattle

their scarlet like confetti.

Metal slashes

the trees and ricochets.

Wires and pipes snap

at the roots, quiver.

The whirling smoke packed

with bricks and cement,

chicken feathers and nigella seeds.

When the cloud begins

to settle on the ground,

the boy makes out buckled iron rods.

White soot descends

and he finds himself dressed

like an apprentice baker.



About the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize

The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize is awarded annually to the best poem in The Poetry Review by a poet who had not, before the issue in which their work appeared, published a collection. It is funded through the generosity of the Dearmer family in honour of the poet Geoffrey Dearmer, who was a Poetry Society member..



Read about the history of the prize.

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